New Zealand’s handling of their first mass shooting tells us a lot about who we are, and that we’re individuals united for convenience, not for realsies.
Every time we have a mass shooting here in the US, I say the same thing. Do not name the shooter. Deny him a place of honor in our minds and history books. Honor the innocence lost to us, and the heroic efforts by those trying to thwart the attack. Honor the first responders who have a job to focus on despite the swirling emotions coursing through them. And honor those trying to improve our country by figuring out how to excise this violence from our daily lives.
Instead, we glorify the killer, give a quick thanks to the heroes, and lump the victims into a simple death toll:
- “Johnny Doe kills 23 children”, “Doe to be arraigned”, and “Doe incites division over gun laws”.
- “Smith & Jones take Doe down” and “Exhausted EMTs continue efforts in Doe’s aftermath”
- “Doe’s 23 victims remembered in vigil”
The hero’s arch is given to the protagonist. He defines and gives meaning all the other characters in the story.
I think this happens for several reasons. First, it gives a quick tag to everything related to this incident. After the first headline, you know what Doe means in all subsequent headlines. It’s an easy shortcut for journalists and readers. Second, it’s easy for our society to say this Doe’s fault, that our complacency towards violence has nothing to do with it.
In other words, Doe quickly becomes the scapegoat for our continued failure to fix the underlying problems.
This country takes responsibility for their first horrific mass shooting. They actively eradicate the gunmen’s name from the conversation. They refer to it by location, the victims, and clearly state what actions they’re taking to ensure this never happens again.
Even in this small paragraph, the different dynamic is easily felt. This is New Zealand’s story. It’s not Doe’s, and it’s not even the victims’. It’s everyone’s story to tell and accept responsibility for.
How did every citizen allow this to happen? By not calling the politicians on their lax gun laws. How did the politicians allow this to happen? By assuming that it won’t happen here, and not adapting as gun ownership demographics changed.
Not even a week later, this has already been addressed. Military style firearms, and firearms that can be modified to become military style, are banned. Immediately. They’re started figuring out how to coordinate the buy back. The conversation is clearly stated in terms of how this improves everyone’s lives. More importantly, the conversation is about “we”, as in how we all take care of each other.
New Zealand checked the statistics and noted how other countries successfully addressed this problem, and immediately took the path proven to work.
Back in the US
Why don’t we do the same?
For all our talk of being leaders, why do we continue to use the old ways?
A common theme in business is for team efforts, emotional intelligence, and playing well with others.
But when it comes to crime, that’s Doe’s fault. When it’s time fix the underlying problems, the lobbyists come in with money, and the politicians pitch fear. And when it’s time to take action, the citizenry has already moved on to the next crisis, using it to push Doe out of our shared memory, along with his victims.
Along with our own role in allowing it to happen again and and and again.
When did we lose our way? Why did we stop helping each other?
Quite frankly, that’s never really been our forte. Every time we dip our toe into being responsible for each other, the fear-mongers cry out, “Socialism!” Look at the continued heated debates over social programs. These programs are proven to be successful the world over, and yet we endure and participate in incessant blatherings, as if no one else has dealt with these issues.
Regardless of what it’s called, states with strong social programs have better economies. We ignore the truth in our own data, preferring to be told what the data mean by pundits and politicians.
Which starts sounding familiar … social issues aren’t “our” issues, just like gun violence isn’t “our” problem. Meaning taking care of other isn’t “our” way. By valuing the individual over the collection, by defining problems as belonging to others, our country is less than the sum of its parts, and always will be.
And when the US becomes an exclusive gated community by building a wall, we’ll have an expensive and blatant reminder that we want it to stay like this forever.